GDC Member-at-Large - Americas | GDC Allyship Initiative | Global Women’s Caucus Comms Team

  • signed up on DC Signup 2021-10-16 14:02:43 -0400

  • Pathways to Safety International: When leaving is the only option

    One night in 1998, Paula Lucas made a desperate promise: God, if you help me get out of here, I will help other women in the position I’m in right now. Lucas, an American citizen living with her Lebanese husband in Abu Dhabi, UAE, had tried before to escape the escalating threat in her abusive marriage. She was frightened not just for herself – “I was close to death at one point” – but for the safety of her three young sons. But that night, through what Lucas calls the intervention of “angels” – a pickpocket who stole her husband’s passport while he was on a European business trip, delaying his return – she was able to locate the boys’ hidden passports, cash a check and flee.

    The return to family in Oregon, however, was nothing like the respite she’d hoped for. With her husband in pursuit, threatening to kill her and claim custody of their sons, Lucas and the boys lived for a time in women’s shelters. Yet her promise held. “I was talking to everyone I met in the shelters,” she remembers. “Like this is ridiculous, this shouldn’t be happening to women.” Some kindly reminded her that probably what she needed was to find a job. But Lucas knew even then that this would be her job: Helping Americans living and travelling abroad break free and find justice from gender-based violence. “I was obsessed,” she says.

    Setting up the agency that would become Pathways to Safety, while still on the run, required focus, plus a few more angels along the way. Lucas met the founder of Voices Set Free, a non-profit helping women in prison for killing their abusive spouses; she met social workers, lawyers and activists. Eventually these efforts paid off in grants to fulfill Pathways’ mission to provide tools and resources for women in situations like the one Lucas had to navigate on her own, in a country not her own. 

    Getting help in a foreign country brings extra challenges from language to legal differences – in the UAE, for example, rape victims can be punishable under the law – to cultural stigma to limited access to bank accounts.   

    What about support from one’s own embassy? “Homeland Americans don’t get it,” says Lucas. ‘Why don’t you just go to the U.S. Embassy?’ they ask. ‘They’ll help you.’ That’s the Hollywood version.” The version Lucas heard when she went multiple times to the embassy in Abu Dhabi, was, ‘If we report this, Paula, we’ll create an international incident.’ I was naïve in thinking, I’m American; my kids are American. We’re protected.”

    The creation of an agency with the necessary global reach took ongoing funding, both private and governmental. Between 2010 and 2013, Pathways to Safety was funded as an initiative through President Obama, followed by a five-year grant through the Department of Justice’s Office of Victims of Crime to support survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. But five days before it was up for renewal in 2017, Lucas got a letter from Jeff Sessions, the new Attorney General. There would be no more money. “They were concerned about our ‘progress,’ says Lucas. “At that point we were in the middle of helping between 400-500 victims around the world.” 

    Pathways continued to cut overhead, but in May 2019, “We had to shut everything down.” (Information, referrals and the most essential service of all -- emotional support -- are still available.)  What hasn’t shut down, however, is Lucas’ resolve to resurrect the agency in some form, possibly making greater use of virtual services. The issues and the urgent attention they require haven’t gone away, especially in the time of COVID, which Lucas says “has only emboldened abusers.” She’s not going away any time soon either. 

    The GWC’s Ending Violence Against Women action team will host Paula Lucas and Keri Potts of Pathways to Safety on November 23, International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Event to be posted soon.

    To learn more about Pathways to Safety, go to: 

    Why stay? There are always reasons

    If one has never been abused, it’s nearly impossible to understand why anyone would stick around, accepting the unacceptable. It’s complicated, is the only answer. 

    Love, the thing that makes the world go ‘round, can be paralyzing. Survivors remember the promising beginning, when the partner was kinder, gentler. Most victims don’t want the relationship to end. They want the abuse to end.

    Terror works. Abusers are good at instilling a sense of foreboding, that what might happen next will be even worse than the terrible present. Things only escalate when a survivor attempts to leave.

    Money, if one has no access to it, does not make the world go ‘round. Abusers may tightly control household income, destroy a survivor’s credit history and forbid working outside the home.

    Isolation – a disconnected phone, no contact with friends and neighbors – ensures that no one outside knows what’s going on inside. 

    Not him! If the abuser is a high-ranker in the community – religious leader, politician, doctor – it will be harder to convince others that this person is capable of domestic violence. Abusers can be charmers, “great people.”

    Shame flips blame to the victim, eroding a sense of self and identity, distorting cause and effect.  It’s the end product of ongoing abuse.

  • published DA’s new Global Disability Caucus in News 2021-08-27 05:54:05 -0400

    DA’s new Global Disability Caucus

    July 26th marked two important occasions: the 31st anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act – the foundational legislation recognizing the rights and needs of those with disabilities – and the first official meeting of the Democrats Abroad Global Disability Caucus (in formation)

    The five speakers on the Zoom panel represented not just a geographic mix, with members from all three DA regions, but diverse experiences of disability. Introduced by the caucus’s acting chair, Marnie Delaney of DA France, panellists included Mike Nitz, a Navy vet and vice chair of DA Vietnam; Heather Stone, an attorney and member of DA Israel; Max Macleod and Denise Roig, members of DA Canada; and Somer Matthews, a doctoral student in special education. 

    The stories shared were compelling, moving and deeply personal, from struggles with mental health to physical accessibility to discrimination in the work force. Some are members of a community that now numbers one billion worldwide; others are allies and advocates. We all share one goal, one hope: that our voices will continue to be heard. And that as members of DA’s newest caucus, we can be a source of information and support, a conduit for action. As Mike said, “Being open about my disability is not hurtful or shameful. It’s authentic and it’s empowering. Not just for me, but for the disability community as a whole.” Click here to view the July 26th event if you missed it.

    While the event celebrated 31 years of the ADA’s passing, the rights of those with disabilities are hardly guaranteed. There is nothing “done” about the gains forged in that early legislation. Almost from the moment the ADA was passed, other bills – mostly written by Republicans – have been put forth to diminish these gains. In fact, two bills are currently under discussion that will undercut parts of the ADA. 

    What can you do? Join us. We are committed to forming the most diverse caucus possible, with many interests, skills and concerns represented.  To learn more, click here.

    Second, watch the powerful documentary Crip Camp: A Disability Revolution, the first project from Higher Ground, the production company of former President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama. It’s available on Netflix and youtube. The film tells the story of the young activists who were the heart and engine of the disabilities movement in the 70s and 80s. Marching (or rolling – many were in wheelchairs), staging sit-ins, demonstrating, refusing to go away, they left us a legacy of making good trouble, as the late John Lewis called it. We have to be those activists now.

  • No Time Like Now for New Gillibrand/Moore Bill

    For survivors of childhood sexual abuse, the No Time Limit for Justice Act has been a long time coming. Introduced last month by U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and U.S. Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI-4), and co-sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), the bill aims to incentivize states to eliminate their statutes of limitations for criminal prosecution and civil suits filed by victims.  

    These statutes have long been a major obstacle for victims seeking justice. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN), a child in the U.S. is sexually abused every nine minutes – that’s about one in nine girls and one in 53 boys under 18. Yet only 12 percent of these crimes are reported to authorities each year, with the majority – 60-80 percent – reported only later in life. And while the federal criminal code doesn’t impose a statute of limitations for child abuse, the majority of states do – North Carolina, South Carolina, Kentucky, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wyoming are the sole exceptions – depriving survivors of the right to seek justice. For instance, Massachusetts sets an age limit of 53 for presenting a case and disallows anything longer than seven years between a public admission and going to court. Perpetrators are protected. Children continue to be endangered.

    “Several statutes of limitations on the state level end in as little as three years after the crime is committed, an unreasonably small window for victims to hold their perpetrator accountable,” said Rep. Moore. “By motivating states to end these burdensome legal barriers, we’re allowing victims to [exercise] their basic right to seek justice and to help them heal from enduring trauma.” ([email protected])

    The motivation to lift those statutes will come in the form of a five percent increase in federal grants under the Services, Training, Officers, Prosecutors (STOP) Program, which trains both law enforcement and prosecutors handling sexual abuse cases. States will be eligible for this funding if they eliminate their statutes of limitations. But the bill promises so much more than monetary benefits. For survivors previously stymied by the system, the bill, “empowers child abuse victims to seek their day in court on their own terms, whenever they should choose to move forward on their paths toward healing,” Sen. Gillibrand said. ([email protected])

    Click the links to send Senator Gillibrand and Representative Moore your words of support!

  • VOCA Fix shores up bipartisan support

    Sometimes bipartisanship works.

    When the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021 (H.R. 1652) passed – 384 to 38 – in the U.S. House of Representatives this past March, it was a rare demonstration of not just bipartisan support, but bicameral agreement as well. Introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the bill seeks to prevent further cuts to victim service grants, already drastically diminished in recent years. 

    Supported by a disparate group of Democrats and Republicans, such as Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), H.R. 1652 seeks to bolster federal funding for agencies serving victims of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, drunk driving and trafficking. The aim is to “fix” how the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) is financed since it is not supported by taxpayers, but through federal criminal monetary penalties, which fluctuate annually. The House-passed bill addresses funding issues to ensure this lifeline will continue to be there for those who need it.

    “Due to the rapidly diminishing balance in the Crime Victims Fund,” Senator Durbin explained, “victim services are already being slashed in states across the country, and some programs and services may see close to a 100 percent cut within two years.” Many worry that victims in rural communities will be especially impacted by these cuts, if Congress does not act decisively. 

    To this end, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) spoke to her colleagues from the Senate floor in mid-June. Her message: We can’t afford to wait. “This has been a hard time for us. But for those who are trying to serve victims, those that are trying to serve the most vulnerable at an exceptionally vulnerable time in their lives – it makes it ten times harder,” she said. “Our providers are exhausted. They are burnt out. And now they are faced with massive cuts. We simply cannot fail them. Can we look past the politics on this? Victims’ advocates are saying: ‘Please don’t use us as the political lever here.’”

    To pull the lever on this critical legislation, contact your U.S. senator and voice your support here.

  • published Family Reunification: “Every story is sad.” in News 2021-05-28 02:09:10 -0400

    Family Reunification: “Every story is sad.”

    I was surprised by my first thought waking up on November 3, 2020. It wasn’t about the election, the one that not just Democrats had so much riding on, but seemingly the entire planet. I wasn’t thinking about the election-watch event planned by Democrats Abroad Canada for later that evening. I wasn’t thinking about our global GOTV effort – postcards, phone calls, podcasts, videos, lawn signs – to take back the country many of us living abroad still consider home. 

    My first thought was of the children. The Trump Administration’s Zero Tolerance policy in 2018 turned the U.S. southern border into a hunting ground. Like so many, I was horrified, mortified, shocked – there is no adequate word – by the images of children taken from their parents as they crossed the border into a country they prayed would be safer than the ones they’d fled. We’ve seen the photos, heard the cries on videos. I don’t need to describe them here. 

    And, yes, thankfully Joe Biden beat out the forces behind this particular evil, but too many of those children and their parents have not. Of the 5,550 families separated at the border, only some have found their way back to one another. As of early April, more than 1,000 children have yet to be reunited with their families; the parents of 445 children have yet to even be located. 

    “Intentional cruelty or incompetence?” asks Spencer Tilger, communications manager for Justice in Motion, a U.S-based non-profit founded in 2005, that’s been tasked with finding and reunifying families, especially the most difficult cases. “Who knows? The result has been the same.” Not only were many parents deported without their children, the U.S. government lost track of some of the children left behind. As Tilger explains, “The government basically said, ‘We give up. We don’t know where they are.’” (A news update this week from a Trump-appointed Inspector General, confirms not just the incompetence, but the deceit behind the policies. Department of Homeland Security officials did not, as claimed at the time, give deported parents the opportunity to take their children back with them.)

    Justice in Motion – which I discovered last December when searching for an organization to donate my first CARES cheque to – has been involved with family separation since the first stunning headlines. Acknowledging that since “migration is an international issue, the solutions have to be international as well,” Justice in Motion created its Defender Network of lawyers and activists in the countries where many families are from – Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, among them. Working closely with the U.S. side of JIA and with the American Civil Liberties Union, these boots-on-the-ground attorneys navigate dirt roads to remote villages where perhaps only indigenous languages are spoken, knock on doors, piece together the barest of details. Sometimes all they have is the name of a relative; often the data is old. “There are enormous gaps,” admits Tilger.

    As are the gaps in trust. After the harrowing experiences these families have endured at the hands of U.S. border officials, a trust deficit makes the work harder yet. JIM’s in-country legal counsel are especially sensitive to this, often acting as impromptu therapists. Imagine the pain and shame, Tilger says, of a deported father coming home without his child and having to admit to his family that he doesn’t know where that child is. “These families live with this everyday.”

    The question is can we live with this? Can our current administration? Immigration has been a stuck place for every U.S. president since … well, since I can remember, and I was around for the Dewey-Truman election. Will we be able to guide/nudge/or shove this administration into real immigration reform? Reform that includes a pathway to citizenship not just for Dreamers, but families who crossed the border with hopes and plans, only to be sent home with so much less than they began.

    Believing that time’s finally up on continued inaction, Congressman Joaquin Castro (TX-20) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) re-introduced the Families Belong Together Act in late April. As Castro said, “The Trump Administrations’ cruel family separation policy will go down in history as one of America’s worst moments. While we know we can never fully do right by the children who will be forever traumatized by this political decision, the Families Belong Together Act is the bare minimum our nation owes the families … as an apology and a promise to do right by them.” 

    That bare minimum would provide “humanitarian parole” to eligible parents and children, would establish a process by which eligible parents and children can be adjusted to lawful resident (LPR) status. It all sounds promising, though the word “eligible” worries me. What will it take to be “eligible?” I have family members who’ve fallen outside definitions like this through successive administrations.

    But as in all things immigration, it’s better to err on the side of hope. In his first days in office President Biden signed three executive orders to kick-start some of the most pressing needs. “I’m not making new law, I’m eliminating bad policy,” he said on February 2. (CNN Politics). He appointed Alejandro Mayorkas as Homeland Security Secretary, the first Latino and immigrant to helm that position, and named Michelle Brané, of the Women’s Refugee Commission, director of a new immigration task force. “Michelle is someone with the requisite expertise and empathy,” says Tilger, who acknowledges the “enormous challenges on the immigration front, while remaining optimistic. “The good news is that of all the issues, [family reunification] has the most bipartisan support.”

    Sarah Jackson’s view of political unity isn’t quite as rosy. Jackson founded Casa de Paz, a refuge for detainees released from the massive ICE detention centre in Aurora, Colorado. If found eligible to remain in the U.S. – often after months of incarceration – detainees are unceremoniously dumped on the streets of the Denver suburb, with no money and no support to find their way to family or sponsors still waiting for them. The Casa, founded nine years ago in Jackson’s one-bedroom apartment – but which has since grown exponentially in resources and volunteers – feeds, shelters and provides transportation to the places where new arrivals should have landed in the first place. “They’re reclaiming their dignity,” says Jackson. Still, she wasn’t “dancing in the streets,” as she puts it, when Biden was elected. Not because she was a Trump supporter, but because she sees the limitations of government when it comes to immigration. “They are politicians. We are activists looking at the actual person. We’re here to welcome people humanely.”

    Those limitations partly have to do with speed, or the lack thereof. Some immigration activists feel there still isn’t enough urgency from the Biden  administration. For Justice in Motion’s attorneys working in Central America, change can’t come fast enough. For Dora Melara who’s undertaken more than three dozen searches in remote parts of Honduras, it all feels urgent. Motivated by the “harm done to people who sought asylum in the U.S.,” she continues to drive to remote places, some of which can only be reached on foot in the last stretch, working to connect parent to child, child to parent. “Every interview and story I hear from the parents is sad, and it moves me,” she says. “As parents we want to protect our children.”

    People like Melara, and the courageous non-profits they work with, continue to heal what has been broken. When I think of the children crying for their mamas, their papas, I think of them and it brings a measure of hope. 

    Learn more about Justice in Motion’s Defender Network

    To enlist the support of your senators and representatives for the Castro/Blumenthal Families Belong Together Act, please go to:

  • published They have our backs in Violence Against Women 2021-05-01 04:33:28 -0400

    They have our backs. It's our turn to have theirs

    By Denise Roig, DA Canada

    If Protect Our Defenders (POD) has anything to do with it, military justice will no longer be an oxymoron. Three members of POD, the pre-eminent organization protecting the rights of those in the U.S. military, recently brought their message of justice and change to a Global Women’s Caucus panel for Sexual Assault Awareness Day. Hosted on Zoom by GWC’s Ending Violence Against Women action team, the event highlighted recent promising strides – particularly the proposal sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Jackie Speier – to combat sexual assault and other sex crimes in the military. 

    POD was founded by Nancy Parrish in 2011 in response to the vacuum of awareness around these issues. Reaching out to a “small band of friends and survivors” – including fellow panel members, Colonel Don Christensen and retired U.S. Navy Lieutenant Paula Coughlin – Parrish has built a formidable organization of advocacy, policy and action. “The U.S. military is arguably the largest and most powerful employer in the world,” said Parrish, explaining that marginalized women are the largest demographic currently joining up, in part for the economic and educational boost the military offers. “Still there is a systemic lack of concern – even a hostile climate – for women.” Too often, she added, women’s military careers are “life destroying.”

    Coughlin knows too well the damage inflicted on military women, especially those who speak out. Victim-blaming, she said, keeps people from seeking help. Coughlin was the whistleblower in the Tailhook scandal in 1992 when 83 women and seven men were sexually assaulted at a gathering of U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps members in a Las Vegas hotel. “Victims have no rights,” Coughlin said. “I had no advocate. It was all about me, not the defendant. ” One of the most “galling” aspects of Coughlin’s experience involved a meeting between her convening officer and the perpetrator’s minister, who vouched for the man’s good character. “He couldn’t have done that,” the minister claimed.

    The biggest stumbling block to justice for victims is that the chain of command still has complete control over the process. “It’s basically still a kangaroo court,” said Coughlin. “There was no way I was ever going to get an attorney.” There’s a failure, she said, to see the bigger picture, “to see that our military is deeply compromised by criminal activity.” Coughlin left the Navy in 1994 with serious PTSD and debt after retaliation for her truth-telling. (Sixty percent of victims face retaliation if they speak up.) She is now a vocal advocate with POD. 

    As is Don Christensen, retired from the U.S. Air Force and chief prosecutor in many of these cases from 2010 to 2014. “We know the pitfalls in our military justice system,” he said. “The military likes to control the narrative, telling victims they can’t talk to the media. A commander can overturn any conviction for no reason.” Most commanders like the people who serve under them, he added. “The average commander has never spoken to a victim in his life.”  Decreasing the chances of a conviction further, 80 percent of victims are not informed of their right to have a non-military legal prosecutor. And of course, there’s the opposing side. “Defense communities are always finding loopholes in whatever we propose. We’re constantly playing a chess game with them,” said Christensen. “But we’re like a dog with a bone.” 

    That game is being doggedly challenged by the Military Justice Improvement Act, Gillibrand’s proposed legislation. As Ann Hesse, chair of the Global Women’s Caucus, wrote in a letter to Democrats Abroad members late last month, “The object of Senator Gillibrand’s plan is to simplify the military justice system, particularly as it relates to crimes of sexual assault and harassment, to make it more professional and less subject to unqualified or improperly motivated decision-making.”

    It makes simple and irrefutable sense. However, even with the backing of some generals, not all are on board, including some female generals and status-quo Republicans in the Senate. “Who could be against this?” asked Marnie Delaney, during the course of the panel discussion. (Delaney is a member of DA France and chair of GWC’s Ending Violence Against Women action team.) “A lot is just inertia,” said Christensen. “And the idea that the answer is prevention, not punishment.” 

    Other reasons are that stricter, legislated consequences would upset the “good order and discipline” mentality of the military, while another argument against is that you can’t deal with issues like this while in combat. Christensen couldn’t disagree more: “All the moving parts of a justice system need to be present even in a combat zone.” Based on his years of litigating sexual assault cases, he admitted, “There’s a shallow understanding of military justice inside the military.”

    So the fight goes on inside and outside the armed forces. “We’re truly at a crossroads,” said Parrish. “It’s the first time ever that a president of the United States has expressed his support for major change.” When asked if he’s behind the fight against “systemic, legal, injustice in the military, President Joe Biden responded unequivocally, “‘Yes, yes, yes!’” 

    But the President and Congress will “need our support to get this to the finish line,” said Parrish. Currently, the Senate vote is edging close to the 60 needed to support Gillibrand’s resolution. Already there’s partisan support, with Senators Rand Paul and Bernie Sanders on board. “We have to push it over the top.”

    “We like to push things over the top in Democrats Abroad,” said Delaney, as the panel came to a close, with Hesse adding, “We have our marching orders now.”

    Watch POD’s presentation to the Global Women’s Caucus, April 6, 2021.

    Support Democrats Abroad’s Military Justice Improvement Resolution which is behind Gillibrand’s proposal. Updates here.

  • Reauthorizing VAWA: Once Bipartisan, Today a Fight for Rights and Protections


    “A matter of justice and compassion.” That’s how President Joe Biden describes the issues at the heart of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act (VAWA) of 2021. The issues include: sexual assault, domestic violence, stalking and sex trafficking. It’s a piece of legislation Biden knows top to bottom, having authored the U.S. federal law as a Delaware senator in 1994, under then-president Bill Clinton. Reauthorizing this signature piece of legislation – which now includes protections for Native-American, LGBTQ and immigrant women – is one of Biden’s first-100-days promises. Those protections translate into money and resources, protections ever more critical in the time of COVID, with domestic abuse numbers spiking.

    Last month, Reauthorization of VAWA (H.R. 1585) narrowly passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, with only 29 Republicans breaking ranks to join their Democratic colleagues. With the thinnest of majorities in the U.S. Senate – a majority of one really – Democrats face an even tougher fight to ensure these protections for half the country’s population. “This should not be a Democratic or Republican issue,” Biden said recently. Apparently, it is. 

    A bit of history:

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  • published End Culture of Rape, Silence in Violence Against Women 2021-03-04 05:24:38 -0500

    End Culture of Rape, Silence

    GWC Supports Effort to End Culture of Rape, Silence in U.S. Military
    By: Denise Roig

    The numbers are staggering: 20,500 U.S. service members sexually assaulted or raped in 2018, a 40% increase from just two years earlier. Of those reported, barely 100 offenders were convicted. Of those women reporting a “penetrative sexual assault,” 59% involved someone of a higher rank, while 24% were abused by someone in their chain of command. Of those women who filed sexual assault complaints, 66% also reported retaliation as a result. No wonder over 76% of victims did not report these crimes in 2018, according to Protect Our Defenders, a group dedicated to ending a culture of assault and silence in the military.

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